Soccer and the Rise of Theological Frauds

By Paul Koch

Small talk at a recent wedding reception:

Guest: “So you’re a pastor, huh? I enjoyed that sermon. What sort of pastor are you?”

Me: “I’m a Lutheran. Missouri Synod, if you know what that is.”

Guest: “Lutheran, no kidding. I used to go to a Lutheran church, grew up in a Lutheran church. Do you guys still do the traditional stuff, or do you have a band?”

(Why do they always want to know if we have a band?)

Me: “My congregation doesn’t have a praise band but a lot of Lutheran churches do.”

Guest: “Yeah, I kinda miss that stuff, I miss the good solid teaching most of all. I can still remember some of my confirmation stuff. They don’t do much of that at our church.”

Me: “What church do you go to?”

Guest: “We go to insert name of large non-denominational community church. I don’t necessarily agree with everything they teach but they do a good job of keeping the kids involved and they do a lot of interesting things. We don’t do much with the Lord’s Supper but the other week we finished a whole series on insert name of latest evangelical best seller and then we did a special interfaith service with a whole bunch of guests. It was kind of weird at first, but my kids thought it was cool.”

Me: “So you actually willingly worship at a place that has no perceivable core teaching, at least not one that you embrace, not to mention a blatant disregard for the sacraments because it is entertaining for you and your kids?”

(Okay, I didn’t say that last line – but I was thinking it)

Cocktail

Against the rules of etiquette, we didn’t actually stay until they cut the cake. My wife and I slipped out of the reception to head down to our favorite neighborhood bar. My tension eases as we enter through the doors and the bartender asks if we will be having the usual. I hand my wife her cocktail and hop on to the barstool next to her, bending the straw over the edge of my Rye on the rocks. Things are beginning to look up as we get lost in conversation. However, during one of the lulls, I stare at the TV behind the bar and I’m greeted with the spectacle of soccer. I watched for a few moments wondering how this happened. How did we get to a place where soccer was being regularly shown in glorious little dive bars like this?

Now, I know the answer to this is simply because soccer is a growing sport, it (for some reason I cannot understand) is becoming more and more popular in this country. So when there is a lull in the broadcasting day, they will fill it with this stunted sport. No one at the bar was cheering on any particular team; no one was cringing at a missed opportunity or celebrating a brilliant play. It was just on as visual background noise to accompany the jukebox.

As I watched the game for a while, I think I stumbled upon a connection between the rise of soccer and the conversations I’ve had, like the one at the wedding.

The key comes with what is arguably the worst feature of soccer – the blatant overacting to draw fouls. These sweethearts don’t just sprawl on the ground like a basketball player taking a charge or flailing their arms to draw a shooting foul. No, when they go down, they do so with the dedication and passion of Oscar worthy actors. They roll on the ground writhing in “pain” grasping at their knee, ankle, or whatever body part happened to touch the opposing player. This “pain” is there long enough to move the official to reward the penalty at which time the “injury” is miraculously healed with no further side effects.

The thing is the fans know this is fake, they know that they aren’t really hurt. The players know it’s fake as well and so play along acting out their outrage over their teammate being brutally mauled by the other team. In many ways, this isn’t much different than when I watched the WWF as a kid. We were all in on the fact that it was fake but we willingly participated in the lie for the fun of the event.

soccer-yellow-card

It is the refs, though, that really drive me nuts. They are the worst. They are the frauds who perpetuate the lie. In the end, the European Championship or the Copa America are not the WWF, but the refs play along as if they believed every one of these method actors was really hurt. About half of the time that I glanced at the TV set, I didn’t see any actual game action but a bunch of grown ass men standing around arguing passionately with a guy holding up a little yellow card. Everyone looks so victimized, and no one just calls “bullshit” on the whole proceeding.

More and more, this is what I find in conversations about what is going on in churches across this great country of ours. People like the gentlemen I spoke to the other day know full well that the church they go to has departed from the faith as it has been delivered faithfully by Word and Sacrament. Because they no longer examine the Word for the faithfulness of the teaching they are caught up in a lie of false gospels and heterodoxy. And yet, they continue to go because it’s entertaining, popular, or fun for the kids. They willingly participate in the lie along with all the other members because it’s simply become part of the sport of church. It’s all a game that is encouraged by the refs (pastors?) who play along.

In this way, everyone is able to continue to enjoy the whole experience. They can grab their hearts and writhe in pain at one moment and they can shout, cheer, and dance the next. And apparently, no one is going to just call “bullshit” on the whole proceeding.

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11 thoughts on “Soccer and the Rise of Theological Frauds

  1. My son is going to the LCMS national youth gathering this month, and told me the other night he figures he is going to be sitting in those mass events just saying to himself, what bulsh☆*!. Timely commentary Paul!

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    1. I feel the same way about corporate seminars and networking events. but, my employer makes me go. Why would you invest in an expensive youth gathering that you and you child consider BS?

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      1. Nothing we participate in is replete of Bulsh**, but if we utterly abandon these events, can you just imagine the sh**storm it could turn into? Besides no one is telling us we can’t confess truth in the face of the bulsh**, so we go, we confess and we maintain a presence…and usually learn a thing or two.

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  2. Pastor,

    I have to know, if you were congratulated on a sermon but the person didn’t know what church you are associated with, then the weeding was not in the church. If we’re going to frown on praise bands, poor doctrine and bad practices, then we should not marry people outside the sanctuary. That is the only place where the truth of marriage is taught and preached. If the weeding is in a hotel, or anonymous chapel, beach, forest, or wedding palace, something is lost. It becomes enthusiastic – God in nature or simply everywhere, can you feel it? Who needs a cross and an altar, anyway?

    That’s your statement against the non-denoms – “I will only marry you in the church, with God’s Word and before the assembled Body of Christ.” that’s the way it used to be.

    Goign to have to call BS on that aspect of the story and give you a yellow card.

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    1. I accept the Yellow card. However if I might clarify a bit; the bullshit that I perpetuated by doing that wedding had nothing to do with the location. My issue in the article had nothing to do with the use of praise bands but with participating in a church where everyone knows its fake but they keep going because it’s fun or entertaining. Hence the soccer analogy. My yellow card would come because that is the very thing I perpetuated by doing a ceremony for a friend who is not even an active church goer. I can try and tell myself that at least I proclaimed the truth in that setting but 99% of those folks I’ll never see again, I became just part of the entertainment for most of them (perhaps hopefully not the bride and groom). In addition, I truly hope that the sanctuary is not the only place that the truth of marriage is taught and preached.

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      1. As to the non-denoms, people are enthusiastic but, you know, we’ve had people go away and come back when it becomes hollow and when the good feelings pass and times get tough and those around them cannot lift them to ecstasy. Up to that point, feeling good/being positive/having fun seems real and sufficient. I don’t think they perceive the that it is fake because it lacks features. Some of this I blame on many Lutheran churches being cold, not being like a family, a little too much German propriety. People are not so deep that they can feel a loving God through distant, reserved people and people need to feel even though feeling is not the point. Our liberty to be theologically high should be curbed to win over those not so strong. Besides, i have people in my own congregation tuning in to the History Channel, watching Joel Osteen, reading Rick Warren and who don’t agree with absolutely everything we teach – that concerns me a lot more. And, yes, if we totally scrapped the praise team and only did traditional, they’d leave and never have the chance to hear the truth. Doesn’t make us much better than the non-denoms that we offer service pleasing to everyone’s taste, does it? In that sense, you’re holding up a mirror moreso than pointing a finger.

        Some might mistake the truth of marriage being taught in places without the One True God – temples, synagogues, mosques – and by Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Unitarians, Hindus, etc. But without the Word of God and the full authority of scripture, the truth of marriage is not truly preached or taught. There are people who think the Supreme Court “redefined” marriage. But how could it? It does not possess that authority, it is a ruling without any true effect on reality. It makes for tougher talking points with those who think that legality is synonymous with right and wrong and places us in opposition to the world – that’s a good thing!

        We know from the opening chapter of Romans that the best these others can do is poorly imitate some specter of natural law. But that is not teaching or preaching and we should not make bedfellows based on results. Agreement in the ends does not show the truth of a teaching. In my opinion, the truth of marriage can only be taught by Christians, in Christian lives, in Christian homes, in Christian churches. Even accepting otherwise acknowledges value in other faiths and the worship of other gods.

        Without the the New Testament exposition of marriage and a read of the Old through that, there is no authorized teaching. The sooner the Church stops trying to accommodate “civil” marriage and contracts soluble in courts of law, the better, in my opinion. I think Luther erred in consigning marriage to earthly keeping. These unions are not created by nature or society or vows or piety in terms of other gods. We Lutherans are trying to have both a high and low view of marriage, in my opinion. Marriage is between one man and one woman because God said so – not because nature teaches us or common sense or general agreement or legal decisions. any position short of that is not the truth.

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    2. I think you need to reread the article. What you are complaining about has nothing to do with anything the article has to say. Your worried about the hot dog stand while the rest of the game is going on behind you…

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      1. I keep hearing about how cold the Lutheran church is and, frankly, I haven’t been in a Lutheran church where the pastor and the members weren’t friendly and welcoming in 40 years. I’m just not buying that. My final point is that I know Pastor Koch and I can assure you that any wedding that he performed was based on the Word of God and the full authority of scripture, and the truth of marriage rightly preached and taught.

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  3. Only one point of contention — the NBA players, while not quite as deeply histrionic, are just as much of a joke as the soccer players when they “draw the foul.” Otherwise — right on.

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  4. Not all non-denoms are as you’ve described above. My sister-in-law just visited this last weekend and she was vehemently anti-Lutheran.

    She refused to greet the pastor on the way out the door because she said she had no respect for him and didn’t want him to “give her a blessing” (I thought he just wanted to say hi). She criticized us for using wine in the Lord’s Supper. She said that she got nothing out of the sermon, which was on trusting God in all circumstances (apparently it wasn’t theological enough for her or maybe we didn’t use a Greek lexicon enough). She went on to lecture my wife about “the way they do things” at her church. She criticized the fact that the pastor wore vestments. Funny, we were faithful MacArthurites before she was even a believer, but now she knows better than us…

    I’d take the blasé non-denom over the strident MacArthurite any day. At least you can reason with your average non-denominational church member and they aren’t going to attack what you believe without listening first.

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  5. Soccer… futbol… the Beautiful Game… most popular sport in the world. You’ll catch on some day. Keep going to that particular bar – you’ll get it. In fact, the game, including the theatrics that accompany the administration of a yellow or red card are a marvelous correlate to real life. When a real (or perceived) violation has occurred, we all “lawyer up” and do whatever posturing is to be done in order to get the result we want, pleading our case before the judge.

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